Terms of Endearment

Boo-Boo Bear

Boo-Boo Bear

I’ve never had an everyday nickname except for Dar. Because I was a serious kid, my friends didn’t play around with my name or find ways to turn it into something insulting. Fortunately, my name doesn’t rhyme easily, either!

My dad used to call me Boo Bear, after a character from the Yogi Bear Show. I liked it because Boo-Boo Bear was Yogi’s trusted sidekick. I thought it was funny decades later when couples started calling their significant other “my boo,” as in Usher and Alicia Keys’ song (although I looked it up, and it comes from “beau”)!

Photo by Nardine Groch at actwild.org.au

Photo by Nardine Groch at actwild.org.au

When my sister and I were teens, we used to imagine becoming doddering old ladies together. We would pretend to hobble down the street, calling each other “Mabel and Martha,” because we thought those names sounded especially ancient. Of course, those names have come back into vogue! This theme eventually morphed into an ongoing gag about us being old tortoises (because we would be both aged and slow).

Rom (my spouse) and Link (my kid) both have nicknames which are shortened versions of their first names; in the same way that Dave and Steve are short for David and Stephen. But they haven’t been plagued with goofy nicknames, either.

Maybe because I was never saddled with an unwanted nickname, I never called my family by other names, either. In fact, I don’t use their names much: if I do, it’s usually because I am trying to get their attention, or I’m expressing shock or annoyance: “Rom! I can’t believe you left the toilet seat up again after we just spoke about it!”

American Gothic by Grant Wood

American Gothic by Grant Wood

I’ve never called anyone dear, sweetie, honey or anything of the sort; nor has anyone addressed me that way…I’m also glad that Rom and I don’t call each other Mom and Pop, or Old Man and Old Lady, or the like. But I must confess that Rom and I have joke names for each other along the lines of “Billy Ray” and “Maybelline” which we use to irk each other!

One thing I’ve never understood is when parents try to control their kids’ names, insisting (for example) that their Madison is never to be called Maddie. Names somehow become public property. In due course, the child will decide what they will tolerate being called.  I have to admit that when Link chose a gender neutral name, it was a nickname for their birth name, so it was easy for me to get used to – like when an Ashley becomes Ash.

Sunny! Photo: poconojrc.org

Photo: poconojrc.org

You know that naming and being named is powerful. It’s devastating to be labelled with a nickname that points to a difference or disability, or that is belittling. How many kids have had to live with being called Pizza Face or Fatty or Spaz? I suppose a nickname is a shortcut – a way to sum a person up in one word, for one quality. Why do we rarely nickname people with their best qualities, like Smiley or Hug Meister or Brains?

Do you have pet names for your significant others? Do they have one for you?

If you have changed your name, I’d like to hear your story.


  1. Ooo…we have SO many nicknames in my family! My nickname growing up, given to me by a *lovely* uncle was Monkey Butt. Sadly, that has stayed with me. I’ve had a lot of people try to call me Meg which I HATE. There are two people I allow to call me that–my nana and brother, and that’s it! It was getting so insane, that I changed my name to Gynnie (pronounced guinea) because I wanted to take the Meg factor out. My dad also calls me Mooghan Garfinkel. My husband calls me Wifey or Wiiiiiiiife. I’m sure I have tons of other nicknames, but I can’t remember them all.

    As for what I call my family, I often call my husband, whose name is Christopher but goes by Chris, Christine, C-Ray (because of his middle name), honey, babe, etc. Each of my boys have many nicknames, but my oldest is usually Nuggie (short for Nugget) and the youngest is Kakes (short for BabyKakes) or KeKe (short for Keegan). Basically, we call each other almost everything BUT their given names 😉

    It’s also funny because I picked my boys’ names based on what they could possibly rhyme with. I did a lot of mean rhyming games with names to ensure they would be spared some obvious stuff 😉

  2. My little bro has been known as Tif or Tiffer for most of his life. His real name is Christopher, but when he was born, my attempt to say ‘baby Christopher’ came out as ‘bay Tif Tif’ and it stuck!

    When I was a teenager, my friends decided that my surname sounded better with ‘Betty’ in front of it than ‘Nicola’ (sounded a bit like Betty Boo) and so I have been Betty/Bets ever since! Even my friends parents learned to refer to me as Betty, and my school friends still look confused for a moment if some calls me Nicola…until they remember it is actually my name!

    My bf and I don’t have nicknames for each other- the pets, however, often end up with ridiculous deviations from their names. Albus (cat) has somehow become known as Doob…Tinkerbell (cat) as Binky or Bink, and Jack (dog) is the wriggle pig! Maybe that’s why they are called pet names..!

    • You probably know that Topher has become the trendy nickname for Christopher!

      Betty and Nicola couldn’t be more different – that must really throw people for a loop! What are you called at work?

      • At work I am Nicola- it’s really only my school friends that call me Betty- I did try a bit to be called Betty at uni, but it didn’t catch on.
        I didn’t know that Topher was the trendy nickname for Christopher- perhaps it has not caught on here yet!

  3. Hi Dar – I can totally relate to what you are saying about the power of a name or nickname – I believe I was probably named after Vivienne Leigh the film star who played Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind. She was born Vivian Mary Hartley and guess what my middle name is too although that may be coincidental as it is also a family name!!
    I am the plain version of Vivien and usually known by the shortened version of Viv – which is fine by me. Only one person has ever shortned it down to ‘Vi’ and I must say I was a bit taken aback at the time more because it sounded strange.

    I always longed to be a Susan or a Linda in school as I was always the only Vivien in any school I attended and felt such an outsider with my name especially as I was always asked to repeat it as if I were a foreigner or an alien! In Majorca they struggled to even pronounce it correctly and I was known all holiday as Bibian!! I did eventually come to terms with my name but I still love it now when people I don’t know address me in emails etc as Vivienne the french version – so much more romantic. My grandad did not like the name at all and always called me Rusty to the day he died because of my mop of ginger hair.
    Saddled with such a different name together with being far too thin and ginger with freckles earned me many nick names at school such as freckles and skinny through to the worst I can remember ‘Reject’ as in a reject from Belsen (although I was too young to understand what Belsen was back then but I felt it was not a good term especially when classmates fell around laughing whenever it was chanted).

    Kids can be so cruel and as you can imagine my self worth and confidence was pretty low during my school days but everything changed when I left and went to Art School at 16 to study Fashion and my differences suddenly made me more interesting! One day unbeknown to me my fine art tutor who loved the colour of my hair did a beautiful 5 minute portrait sketch of me on a scrap of brown paper as I sat sketching a still life in class. He gave it to me at the end of the lesson and I suddenly saw myself differently for the first time and from that moment onwards both my hair and slim figure became more of an asset. I still have that sketch and later with my new found confidence I went on to do quite a bit of modelling during my Fashion course… so Mr Cauper I thank you for that sketch and the way you changed my life and allowed me to leave all those cruel nicknames behind.

    • I am always amazed by how cruel kids can be, especially when they develop a pack mentality – their tendency to zoom on on a person’s weaknesses (or perceived negative traits), assigning them a place in the pecking order. Your comment reminded me that attention and affirmations from caring adults really make a difference!

      • Certainly without Mr Cowper (whoops spelt his name wrong first time!) I might have trod a different path and I bet he doesn’t even realise the tremendous effect he had on my life with that one little sketch! It is strange but wonderful how we can touch someones life without even realising it.

  4. Like you I’m not one for a mushy nickname for my loved ones. I do sometimes call my husband, Husband, and he calls me Wife. But we mainly use our real ones.. My sons I call Kid or Child, or Efor and Dfor (as in E for “name that beings with E” and D for “name that begins with D”) or even just E and D – syllables being precious commodities here and not to be wasted.

    I am not the sort of person that people feel they can give a nickname, though Aussies are known to give nicknames to everyone and everything, adding an o or and ie or y to the end of names. My husband has lots of nicknames, being male helps and being that sort of Aussie bloke that others feel giving nicknames is appropriate and the done thing.

    My grandmother called me little mouse in German, and my mother added -ken to a diminutive of my name, like Daryken. Means sweet, little Dar.

  5. Fiona

    I’m like you, Dar. I was quite a serious, child and I just never got nicknamed. But since this is Australia and nicknaming is compulsory, I do get called “Fi” by my closest friends now, as an adult. It feels a bit fake but being Aussies, it’s almost an insult not to shorten or change your friends’ names (unless of course they already have a short name. Then it will be lengthened by adding ‘o’ or ‘ay’…or just turned into a new name.) I knew some of my husbands’ friends for years without knowing their actual names until they got married and read the vows!

    • Yeah, that’s not done as much here. In the past few years there was a young folks thing whereby they would take one syllable of your name and double it (as in Kasey become KayKay or Nina becoming NeNe). But we’ve never had the “o” on the end!

      • The -o thing is big here, especially for males’ last names. So a man whose name is Mark Thompson will be called Thomo, never Markie or Tommie. And Stephens will be called Steve-o, and Richardson, Richo. (If they don’t have a totally made-up nickname that often last for life.)

      • Yep the BF’s “mates” add an O on his name, which can also have a ‘y’ or ‘ie’ added, so it’s an each way bet :p

  6. EcoCatLady

    Well… this is a hard subject for me. My parents chose my name because I was apparently the ugliest baby they had ever seen. As the story goes, they had a friend who was really ugly, but everyone liked her, so I was named after her. They said that an ugly baby meant that I’d either grow up to be ugly or beautiful, and if I stayed ugly they’d use my nick name and if I became beautiful they’d use my full name. And, of course, they always used my nick name. On top of that, my father called me “little ugly” as a child, and my mom called me “miss mess.”

    Oy. I have spent many, MANY years dealing with the emotional baggage of all that – and have finally come to see that it says much more about my parents than it does about me. It still gives me a lump in my throat to think about it though. And yes… if you want to scar your child for life, this is a good way to do it. I’m still sometimes surprised to look in the mirror and find that I’m not actually horribly disfigured, as I always assumed I must be.

    Anyhow, over the years I went through many machinations over the whole subject. I seriously considered changing my name at one point, but that seemed a bit phony to me. After I graduated from college I decided to try using my full name rather than my nick name, but alas, when I got a job there was already another person there by that name, and since the staff of the place totaled 4 people, it would have been too confusing. I guess that’s one of the many reasons that I blog under a pseudonym rather than my real name.

    I would like to say that I’ve come to a place of peace with it all, but, as evidenced by the tears in my eyes as I write this, that’s clearly not the case. I am so grateful to CatMan though… who never lets a day go by without telling me that I am beautiful.

    • It’s shocking the damage that can be done through naming and labelling. It’s bad enough when it is passed off as teasing (that kids should supposedly “laugh off”) but worse when it is intentional, specific and ongoing. In Canada, we had a heartbreaking news story about Jeffrey Baldwin, which included dehumanizing labels. The “sticks and stones” saying is a terrible lie. I am really sorry you experienced that.

    • Wow! That is so un-nurturing. Did you retaliate by calling your parents by the names of really nice parents and tell them you were doing so in the hope that they would come to lose the cruel streak?

      Glad you have a Mr ECLad who tell you you’re beautiful. Sending cyber hugs!

    • Oh I am indignant that your parents could be so cruel – but not only that, to tell you all this too!

      I’m so pleased you have a loving partner. I think that’s the LEAST you deserve after that sort of childhood!

  7. WHAT?!? Your parents are clearly insane!! You ARE beautiful, inside and out, Cat!

  8. I loved the Yogi Bear show as a kid! 🙂

    We use funny nicknames (not based on given names) a lot in my family – like Tootsie, Beluga, etc. “Real” names are not used often. It’s the same with my husband. I’m so used to calling him babe that I called out “babe!” in the store the other day, before even thinking about it. The two other guys who turned around both laughed with me about it. 🙂

    As for other kids, I was called A Man, duh! more than once but I the fact that I was being insulted didn’t even cross my mind. It was more like, okay . . now that you have my attention, what do you want to say to me? And usually that response threw them off and they’d leave me alone.

  9. my other half has a million nicknames for me, my favourite is ‘small nose’ because he knows I hate my nose! I used to teach a boy names Joshua and his parents went ballistic if you abbreviated it to Josh. I am talking letters to the head teacher ballistic. Fortunately, I never received one of those letters, but others did. You are right though, it should be up to the child and it will be as they grow up.

  10. Oh how I wish I got your posts via email still… So late to the party!

    I was the first born, and as you know, a simple and classic (and biblical) name. All the countries know of it – Arab, Anglo, perhaps not all of Asia! However, whilst my ‘name’ is Sarah, my immediate family NEVER call me Sarah. Yep – secret’s out to the blogosphere!

    I’m pop or poppy. I’m OK with aunts and cousins using it too, but a brother’s (now ex) GF used it and I was NOT happy, so I made that known! (If I’d liked her, I’m sure it would have been ok!). Anyhow, the origins are murky, but lead to me being called a little poppet, and my next brother not being able to say Sarah and hearing little poppet and then here we are – 29 with a split name!

    Work and socially, I’m almost always Sarah. I actually (secretly) love when my name is shortened, which was much more common in school. I was one of many Sarahs – both in my social group, the boarding house, and naturally the year group.

    And as to ‘sweet’ names – I’m HUGE into it. The BF wasn’t when we started out, but came around. So he’s almost more inventive than me. Shall I make you all revolted (oh they are mostly only at home, in private): Him to me: honey bear, kitten, pumpkin, honey, sweetie, darling, etc
    me to him: sweetie, darling, hon, honey, babe
    I think I picked this up from a friend who always called her partner honey when I was single. But I notice I go through stages of using some diminutives a lot with all sorts of people…

    • Oh and I call my youngest brother (of 2), Dar, even though his name is Rory. No logic. Dad gets a little confused though, as some times it become Dardar, which my father mishears. My mother gets called her middle name by her sister (only and occasionally). My Dad’s always Greg – the french don’t understand ‘Greg’ only ‘Gregoire’ – so he spends a fair bit of time explaining when living there.

    • Who knew! When you were away at school and were one of several Sarahs, did you invite others to call you Pop or Poppy, or did you have another nickname?

      I would just hate to be called any of those pet names, or to use them. I guess I associate them with unwanted advances or unwelcome intimacy, like when a stranger in customer service or at work (of any gender) calls you sweetie or honey. Grr!

      • I can imagine why you hate them – I’ve had times when they’ve made my skin crawl. But some how, they’ve got us hook line and sinker here! And I’m otherwise a pretty pragmatic and ‘blokey’ girl!

        No, I never did think of taking on my ‘nickname’ at school – strange right?

    • Sarah, do you use a blog reader? I’ve set up all mine on Bloglovin.

      • I do and don’t – I use the WordPress Reader, which I ‘catch up’ on all the wordpress blogs I no longer get emailed, but I still need to head to the ‘real’ blog to comment. I should look into it some more – as to why my emails of posts from wordpress only no longer come..

  11. As a family we’ve always used nicknames – nice ones though! My Dad has several names for me – I can’t remember a time when he’s actually called me Laura! Same goes for my husband. He never calls me by my actual name.

    I gave all my children shortened versions of names and all their friends have shortened them even further. Jenni, gets called Jen, Katie gets called Kate and Ben gets called B!
    I hardly ever call them by their actual names – It’s obviously a thing our family does.

    Like you Dar I hate being called sweetie or darling by someone I don’t know – at work say – and have been known to point that out 😉

  12. Lane

    I had so many pet names for my kids, some of which I still use. My youngest was known as baby bird, a name her mates adopted for her with glee. She actually likes it. I call my DH darling much of the time; he affixes a “Y” to my name. In unrelated settings people have called me the same professional nickname, quite odd.

  13. Great post and lots of comments. My southern wife has used variations of sweetie, honey, chickie, etc., but there is a motive to her madness. When she could not remember someone’s name, she would be effusive with “hey sweetie” and do it in such a disarming way, the person had no idea that my wife could not remember her name. We do tease about names and phrases we will use when we get older and more forgetful. “Come on Lucille, it’s time to go.” Take care, BTG (which stand for a nickname I was given by an old friend – Big Tall Guy).

    • I didn’t even think of that – people use stand-in names all the time when they don’t recall real names! One thing commenters haven’t mentioned is using pet names ONLY when they want something…which I think is pretty common, too!

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